Another book on the “Must Read” pile

For all intents and purposes, summer has been here in the Dallas area for the last two weeks. (It’s even worse out west: my best friend and I went to Cross Plains for Robert E. Howard Days on Saturday, and I can state with a bit of expertise that the current drought is the worst that area has seen since “Two-Gun Bob” Howard was still alive.) The National Weather Service has started two weeks early with its vague promises of rain in two weeks, and those rains never arrive. I use a 35-gallon (132.48 liter) evaporative system in my greenhouse to keep things relatively cool and humid, and it’s one-third empty by the end of each day. People are filling old tires with gasoline, lighting them, and putting them around their necks to cool down. Oh, and writers have their brains so stricken by the heat that they go into mad rationalizations and exaggerations, in a defensive measure worthy of a protagonist in an H.P. Lovecraft story, to fend off the true horror. Namely, we only have another three months of this before there’s so much as a chance of the heat breaking.

You don’t have to be insane to live in Texas, but a summer here will drive you to it. It’s a good thing that the well water in West Texas has so much lithium carbonate in it, because otherwise we’d all be chopping each other into pate with chainsaws by about, oh, mid-July. In my case, I think the African lungfish Protopterus has the right idea.

The one good thing about the unrelenting baking? It makes Texas very, VERY Capsicum pepper-friendly. Now, the various legends about eating large quantities of Capsicum peppers to adapt to the summer heat may be apocryphal or exaggerated, but one thing’s for certain. Namely, the plants themselves LOVE these conditions. Keep them in enough water to fend off wilting, and they’ll grow big enough to ask for UN membership before you know it. Before you know it, you’re an addict.

Addiction to growing peppers isn’t necessarily connected to an addiction to eating them, but both types of addicts enable each other. After a while, the names roll lovingly off the tongue, as they’re burning holes through the muscles in it. You find yourself perusing the Chile Pepper Institute catalog in the middle of the night. Strange charges show up on the credit card, and trips to the local hydroponics shop are planned secretly while spouses and family are gone. You keep telling yourself “Just one more set of Black Pearls, and I’m done,” but the serious pepper addict knows that these are just lies. Worse, that addict finds other addicts at work, at the garden center, and in various restaurants that don’t show up on Google searches. “Dude, all I’ve got are serrenos. If I were holding Bhut Jolokias, I’d tell you.”

Now, if you’re smart, you’ll pay attention to the 25-year-old adage “Never trust a junkie.” For those who like messing with the wild side, I’d like to point out that Michael J. Hultquist’s book Jalapeno Madness: Jalapeno Recipes Galore is a great source of recipes for that gateway drug of peppers, the mighty jalapeno. Start with a few of these beauties, and before you know it, you won’t be happy without a daily hit that peels the enamel off your teeth in big floppy strips. (I once had a foodie acquaintance who tried bragging about his tolerance to sriracha sauce, and I just squeezed a line onto my finger and brushed my teeth with it. I speak from experience on this.) When you have Capsicum in your life, who needs anything illegal?

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